The Aug. 7 special election in Ohio’s 12th congressional district received national headlines thanks to a surprise surge by Democrat Danny O’Connor. Ultimately the charge by O’Connor, who was battling to upset the Republican, Troy Balderson, in a heavily red district that went for Trump by 11 points in 2016 came up short. That’s the bad news.
The good news? O’Connor is running in the Nov. 6 general election and it appears the dynamic has totally shifted. Democrats have gone on the offensive in what should be a wave election. Republican fundraising is falling short as they attempt to defend a vast number of seats that are vulnerable — likely, even — to fall to Democrats.
After O’Connor came up just short — less than a single percentage point decided the results and the election was not conceded for weeks — he used his national momentum to look forward to November.
O’Connor has raised more than $6 million in the past three months. That’s a tremendous total for a House race that was considered to be unwinnable for Democrats before August. Balderson hasn’t reported his numbers yet, but in the last reporting period before the special election, O’Connor’s numbers blow Balderson’s out of the water.
From July 19 to August 27, Balderson raised just under $505,000 while O’Connor raised fully eight times that amount, hauling in $4.06 million. Balderson is not required to disclose his third quarter fundraising totals until Oct. 15, but it would not be surprising to see a similar blowout on the way again.
It’s exceedingly rare to see a Democrat out-raise a Republican to that kind of magnitude in this kind of area, a gerrymandered and wealthy district that encompasses Republican-leaning exurbs and suburbs and is more than 86-percent white.
O’Connor’s fundraising advantage comes from a direct connection to the voters. As of Sep. 24, he had received more than 96-percent of his campaign warchest from individual donors. Just 56-percent of Balderson’s donations come from individuals, for comparison’s sake. O’Connor has pledged not to take corporate donations. It goes nearly without saying that the same is not true for the Republican Balderson.
“Obviously, those are really good numbers [for O’Connor] – I mean, that’s an incredible quarter… I don’t know if the cavalry’s going to able to come in and help [Balderson] this time,” Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics told Cleveland.com.
In the August special election, a key to Balderson’s narrow win was the support of outside groups like the Paul Ryan-controlled Super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund. All told, during the special election, Federal Election Commission data revealed that outside groups spent $2.6 million backing Balderson’s candidacy and eventual victory, compared to just $1.2 million spent by outside groups to benefit O’Connor.
The second time around? The Republican candidate has been abandoned — outside groups have not spent a dime supporting Balderson or attacking O’Connor.
Why has the national conservative fundraising apparatus (usually rivers of money from wealthy elites pouring directly into the pockets of bought-off Republican candidates) failed Balderson in Ohio’s 12th district? There are simply too many races and too many House seats vulnerable to a Democratic victory.
Recent data from Politico’s race ratings show the dire state of things for Republicans’ dwindling hopes to hold on to the House of Representatives. “With a month to go until Election Day, there are now 209 seats either firmly or leaning in the Democratic column — only nine shy of the 218 the party needs to wrest away control of the chamber,” Politico editor and chief polling analyst Steven Shepard wrote in a recent summary of the upcoming elections.
26 other seats remain classified as toss-ups in the House and another 28 — including Ohio’s 12th district — are “leaning” Republican, but are certainly vulnerable to a loss. The GOP are working hard to defend even seats considered likely victories and just will not expend resources to aid Balderson’s campaign. Given that he can’t win the fundraising battle on his own, his prospects are certainly trending downwards going into November.
Similar information is contained in 538’s latest projections on the House races. With a nearly 80-percent chance for the Democrats to gain control of the House, according to the data analysis site, resources are stretched thin for Republicans.
Kondik’s analysis of this race appears to be correct — the Republican cavalry is not coming to help Balderson. If his ailing campaign cannot come close to closing this massive fundraising gap, he’ll be in a dire state as November looms ever close. O’Connor has been coming on strong and has all of the momentum.
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